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United States v. Bacon

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Valdosta Division

December 11, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
WILLIAM BACON

          ORDER

          HUGH LAWSON, SENIOR JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant William Bacon's Renewed Motion for Judgment of Acquittal or, in the alternative, for a New Trial. (Docs. 333, 381). For the following reasons, Defendant's motion is DENIED.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         A grand jury in this district returned an indictment against Defendant Dr. William Bacon and five co-defendants on February 10, 2016. (Doc. 1). Dr. Bacon was charged in Count One with conspiracy to distribute or dispense controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose and not in the normal course of medical practice. Counts Four and Five charged Dr. Bacon with two substantive counts of dispensing controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose. Count Six charged Dr. Bacon with conspiracy to launder money. A superseding indictment was returned on June 15, 2016, adding two additional co-defendants but not otherwise altering the charges against Dr. Bacon. (Doc. 88).

         Dr. Bacon entered a plea of not guilty on February 23, 2016. (Doc. 19). The Court thereafter declared the case complex, and, over the course of the next two years, the case proceeded through discovery and multiple motions hearings. On the eve of trial, four Defendants remained, the other four having already pleaded guilty. Then, immediately before jury selection commenced on May 29, 2018, two more defendants changed their pleas, leaving only Dr. Bacon and Defendant Dr. Donatus O. Mbanefo to proceed to trial.

         The Government began presenting its case on May 30, 2018. The Government spent the next seven days introducing evidence concerning the operation of two pain management clinics: the Wellness Center of Valdosta, located in Valdosta, Georgia; and the Relief Institute of Columbus, located in Columbus, Georgia. Through the testimony of agents from various law enforcement agencies; other doctors who worked for brief stints at the two clinics; concerned pharmacists; an undercover agent who presented herself as a patient at each clinic; numerous former patients; and two experts familiar with the prescribing practices of pain management clinics and the red flags of clinics operating for illegitimate medical purposes, the Government established Dr. Bacon's involvement in the clinic, his knowledge of the day-to-day operations of the clinic, and his knowledge that he was prescribing a powerful cocktail of controlled substances to patients without a legitimate medical purpose. The Government further bolstered its case through the introduction of the testimony of Defendants Shavonta Bright, Junior Biggs, and Carol Biggs, each of whom testified about the establishment of the clinics and Dr. Bacon's specific involvement.

         The Government rested on the eighth day of trial, at which time Dr. Bacon orally moved for judgment of acquittal. The Court denied Dr. Bacon's motion. Dr. Bacon then took the stand in his own defense. He offered no other evidence. The Court charged the jury on June 8, 2018, day nine of trial. The jury deliberated over the next two days. On June 13, 2018, the jury returned a verdict, finding Dr. Bacon guilty as to Count One and not guilty as to all remaining counts. Dr. Bacon now renews his motion for judgment of acquittal or, in the alternative, for a new trial.

         II. RENEWED MOTION FOR JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL

         Dr. Bacon argues that he is entitled to judgment of acquittal under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c) because the Government failed to produce evidence sufficient to establish a conspiracy in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. And, even if the Court finds that the Government did prove the existence of the conspiracy, the evidence still was insufficient to prove that Dr. Bacon knowingly and voluntarily joined in it.

         A motion for judgment of acquittal under Rule 29 “is a direct challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence presented against the defendant.” United States v. Aibejeris, 28 F.3d 97, 98 (11th Cir. 1994). In ruling on a Rule 29 motion, the court must “determine whether, viewing all the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government and drawing all reasonable inferences and credibility choices in favor of the jury's verdict, a reasonable trier of fact could find that the evidence established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” United States v. Grigsby, 111 F.3d 806, 833 (11th Cir. 1997) (quoting United States v. O'Keefe, 825 F.2d 314, 319 (11th Cir. 1987)) (internal quotation marks omitted). A conviction will be upheld if “any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” United States v. Hunt, 187 F.3d 1269, 1270 (11th Cir. 1999) (emphasis in original).

         Here, the Government produced ample evidence to support the jury's conclusion that Dr. Bacon knowingly and voluntarily joined in an agreement to unlawfully dispense controlled substances. To prove a conspiracy in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846, the Government is required to prove “(1) a conspiracy (or agreement) existed between Defendants or between others; (2) Defendants knew the essential objects of the conspiracy, which are to do either an unlawful act or a lawful act by unlawful means; and (3) Defendants knowingly and voluntarily participated in the conspiracy.” United States v. Westry, 524 F.3d 1198, 1212 (11th Cir. 2008). The existence of an agreement may “be proved by inferences from the conduct of the alleged participants or from circumstantial evidence of a scheme.” United States v. Mateos, 623 F.3d 1350, 1362 (11th Cir. 2010) (quotation marks omitted). A conspiracy conviction will be upheld if “the circumstances surrounding a person's presence at the scene of conspiratorial activity are so obvious that knowledge of its character can fairly be attributed to him.” United States v. Figeuroa, 720 F.2d 1239, 1246 (11th Cir. 1983). “The evidence need not be inconsistent with every reasonable hypothesis other than guilt.” United States v. Gamory, 635 F.3d 480, 497 (11th Cir. 2011). The jury is allowed “to choose among the several reasonable conclusions to be drawn from the evidence.” Id.

         There was overwhelming evidence introduced throughout the trial from which the jury could reasonably infer that Dr. Bacon was participating in the alleged conspiracy to dispense controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose. The fact that the jury acquitted Dr. Bacon of the substantive charges surrounding his examination of the undercover agent does not vitiate the remaining evidence. Nor does Dr. Bacon's testimony that he discharged some patients from the Valdosta Wellness Center somehow alter the evidence that Dr. Bacon was engaged in the regular practice of conducting cursory, or no examinations, of patients and then prescribing large quantities and dosages of Oxycodone, Xanax, and other medications.

         Dr. Bacon may very well have treated some patients according to an appropriate standard of care, but the evidence in general supports the conclusion that on the whole, Dr. Bacon was engaging in a practice of prescribing large numbers of controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose. The jury also could infer that Dr. Bacon was aware of and involved in the conspiracy based on the testimony regarding the condition of the clinic, including the large number of patients who lined up early in the morning and often stayed late into the evening; the number of out-of-state patients and groups of patients arriving together; the overall condition of the office and apparent lack of medical equipment and supplies; the cash-based nature of the business; the establishment of a VIP system; as well as Dr. Bacon's knowledge of complaints received from pharmacies regarding his prescribing methods.

         Dr. Bacon suggests that the testimony of the purported co-conspirators undermines any inference of a conspiracy. Dr. Bacon specifically points to the testimony of Junior Biggs and Carol Biggs, who both claimed to have intended to set up a legitimate pain management clinic. He additionally highlights select testimony from Shavonta Bright, who noted that Dr. Bacon presented himself professionally and implemented a protocol for drug screenings as well as a system to prevent “doctor shopping.” However, the jury had to weigh these snippets of evidence along with voluminous other evidence of a contrary mission. And, to the extent that Dr. Bacon questions the credibility of any of the cooperating co-defendants or patients, or to bolster the veracity of his own testimony, credibility determinations “fall within the exclusive province of the jury and may not be revisited unless the testimony is ‘incredible' as a matter of law.” United States v. Calderon, 127 F.3d 1314, 1325 (11th Cir. 1997).

         Having reviewed all of the evidence and testimony submitted at trial, the Court concludes that its original decision to deny Dr. Bacon's motion for judgment of acquittal was sound. The Court's determination that the Government produced adequate evidence from which a reasonable fact finder could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Dr. Bacon knowingly and voluntarily participated in a conspiracy to dispense controlled substances without a ...


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